Should I Invite My Elderly Father to Live with Us?

"My dad's been angling to move in with me ever since my mum died. I know it wouldn't work out - but am I being mean by not taking him in? Eldercare specialist and life coach Dr. Lesley Trenner provides her expert advice on this personal dilemma

Unfortunately, as well as being very stressful the dilemma of whether an elderly parent should live with you is a common one. As a society, we get so many conflicting messages about what we should be doing in terms of looking after our older relatives. Most of us in our "middle years" have been brought up to think that it's our responsibility to look after our parents when they get older. Some of us may indeed want to do that or simply feel like it's the right thing to do.

But sometimes the relationship with our parents is strained or we don't feel like we are capable of being a "carer". And we aren't sure how far that responsibility goes - regular visits, inviting them to stay for the weekend, asking Mum or Dad to move in? What about the needs of other family members and the demands of work? With all of this to think about it can be very hard to know what we want or need ourselves as individuals.

What Is a "Good Daughter"?

You are already doing a great deal for your father - shopping, cooking, taking him to appointments, inviting him over for meals - without much help or support. In most people's terms you are already being a "good daughter"? I guess the question for you is what's "good enough" and why you feel that it's "mean" not to let him move in with you.

Are you thinking about how your wider family or society, in general, will judge you? Is the main feeling one of guilt? Are the voices from your upbringing or religious community telling you you're being a bad daughter? It's probably a good idea to think whether these messages are still valid - otherwise you will continue to feel increasingly bad about the situation or else cave in a weak moment, move your father in and potentially end up with an unhappy household.

Honest Conversations

Before ruling it out completely, I wonder if it is worth spending a little bit of time thinking about whether it really might be feasible for your father to move in with you. Perhaps talk with your children and see if there's any way you could make this work. Are there any advantages to having him around? As we know, teenagers are often hard to live with but they might surprise you in their reaction or have a different perspective on the situation.

However, if it becomes clear that you are right in saying that it just wouldn't work, then it's time to have an honest conversation with your father and to be armed with different options.

The Way Forward

First, have a think about why your father is dropping hints about moving in. It sounds like since your mother died, he may miss having someone to look after him. Is he lonely? Does he need more support? Does he miss family life? Did he and your mother have a social life together which has disappeared?

Then have a think about ways to make his life a little easier and more enjoyable without him actually moving in with you.

Would it help if he had a "housekeeper"? Are there local community volunteers who would pop in and have a chat with him? If he's still able to go out, can you organise social events for him, trips to the theatre or Bingo or regular visits to a friend or relative. Can you set him up with Skype to keep in touch with people who aren't local or see if your children would phone him and ask for help with their homework? If he has hobbies, can you find a local club or some way for him to get involved with his favourite activities again?

Prepare for Conversation

It will probably be difficult to talk to your father about a situation that's not been openly discussed before. You need to be clear in your own mind about what you're going to say, to anticipate how he might respond and to have some positive suggestions at the ready. Depending on his personality, you may need to be gentle, persuasive, direct or blunt in order to get him to listen.

You say he is used to getting his own way so it may be a conversation that has to be repeated, especially if his memory is poor. You may want to give reasons or just say that it's not going to work.

However you phrase it, I would make it clear that you are aware how much he misses your mother and that you would really like to help him as much as you can and to make life better for him.

You talked about your father's "last few years". I don't know how old your father is or whether in fact, he might have many, many years left. Now may also be a good time to think about how he will cope and what you will do if his health deteriorates suddenly and if he is no longer able to live on his own. These are always such difficult decisions to make.

Families often wait until there is a crisis and then must pull together 'a less than the optimum solution' in a hurry - in your case, it might seem like there is no alternative to him moving in at that stage. To avoid this, it would be helpful to know how your father feels about the possibility of having a carer, moving to sheltered accommodation or other options if it became necessary in the future.

Decision Time

To sum up, it looks like it's decision time. You can continue with the way things are, feeling "mean" but trying to avoid the situation. You can bite the bullet and try to make it work for your father to move in with you. You can look at ways to improve his current living arrangements and quality of life or you can plan ahead for the time when he might move to a place where he has more company and support.